Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) in the US found that crystalline particles of titanium dioxide were found in pancreas specimens with Type 2 diabetes, suggesting that exposure to the white pigment is associated with the disease.
Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is not a known constituent of any normal human tissue. Our body normally has plenty of salts and compounds of metallic elements such as sodium, potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium, as well as lesser amounts of other metallic elements like cobalt or molybdenum but not of titanium.
"Our initial findings raise the possibility that type 2 diabetes could be a chronic crystal-associated inflammatory disease of the pancreas, similar to chronic crystal-caused inflammatory diseases of the lung such as silicosis and asbestosis," said Adam Heller, professor at UT Austin.
In the mid-20th century, titanium dioxide pigment replaced highly toxic lead-based pigments. It became the most commonly used white pigment in paints and in foods, medications, toothpaste, cosmetics, plastics and paper.
According to the World Health Organisation, the number of people with diabetes has quadrupled during the past four decades, affecting about 425 million people, with type 2 diabetes comprising the majority of recorded cases.
Although obesity and an aging population are still considered major factors leading to a rise in type 2 diabetes cases worldwide, the study suggests that increased use of titanium dioxide may also be linked to the rapid rise in the number of people suffering from the disease.
"The dominant T2D-associated pancreatic particles consist of TiO2 crystals, which are used as a colorant in foods, medications and indoor wall paint, and they are transported to the pancreas in the bloodstream," he said.
Given the wide-reaching implications of his findings, Heller is keen to repeat the study using a larger sample.
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